Political Science Now

S. M. Lipset and the Fragility of Democracy

by Mildred A. Schwartz
Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Seymour Martin Lipset passed away eleven years ago. If he had lived, he would have celebrated his 95th birthday on 18 March. Today, his prolific scholarship remains as timely and influential as when he was an actively engaged author. Google Scholar reports 13,808 citations between 2012 and the beginning of 2017. All of Lipset’s papers have been collected at the Library of Congress and soon will be available to researchers. One cannot think of other contemporary social scientists of his caliber who remain as relevant.

Two years before Lipset’s passing, the Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture called ‘Democracy in the World’ was jointly inaugurated by the National Endowment for Democracy and the Munk School of Public Affairs at the University of Toronto. The annual lecture, delivered in both the United States and Canada, is subsequently published in the Journal of Democracy. The 13 lectures delivered thus far reflect and extend Lipset’s concerns with the conditions needed for the emergence and sustaining of democracy, and do so by moving outside the Anglo-American and Eurocentric world to Russia, China, Latin America, and the Arab world (e.g., Pierre Hassner’s “Russia’s Transition to Autocracy” (2007), Abdou Filali-Ansary’s “The Languages of the Arab Revolution,” (2012), and Anthony J. Nathan’s “The Puzzle of the Chinese Middle Class.” (2016).

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Mildred A. Schwartz is professor emerita in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and visiting scholar in sociology at New York University. She is the author, co-author, or editor of 10 books and 60 articles. Her most recent book, Party Movements in the United States and Canada, received the Seymour Martin Lipset Best Book Award from the Canadian Politics Section of the American Political Science Association in 2011. She is the author of the Oxford Bibiliographies in Sociology article “S. M. Lipset.”